Groups of opposition protesters took to the streets in Ecuador’s capital city Quito Wednesday with government supporters holding counter-demonstrations in the wake of a dispute between the government and military chiefs that led President Rafael Correa to sack the military high command.
Anti-government protesters chanted slogans including “Out Correa, out” and “Prison Correa, prison,” while pro-government crowds shouted “The people united will never be defeated” and “In the struggle of the people, nobody gets tired” at a rally where the president spoke.
“Correa should resign,” one opposition protester told teleSUR, describing the country as living in “total insecurity” and suffering a moral crisis. She said Correa’s recent actions against the military high command was one example of many “abuses” committed by the government and that Correa should go to jail.
Counter-demonstrations in favor of the government took a very different tone. “The president has made a difficult decision,” Pedro de la Cruz told teleSUR. “And we're here to support his decision.”
Addressing government supporters gathering in Quito’s central Plaza Grande in front of the Presidential Palace, Correa summarized the dispute and defended the achievements of the left-wing government.
Correa slammed mainstream press for misrepresenting the government and painting his administration as a dictatorship.
“I want the press to listen to me: Stop manipulating the people,” the president said. “Everything we are doing is legal and for the good will of the people.”
teleSUR correspondent Isobel Finbow described the pro-government rally as a peaceful gathering.
Meanwhile, opposition protesters gathered in other parts of the city, including in front of Correa’s Alianza Pais party headquarters.
“Nine years in power is too much, we want (Correa) out,” one protester told teleSUR. “Democracy has ended, nothing is independent.”
“It’s communism disguised as 21st century socialism,” another protester said holding a sign calling for Correa to resign. “Commander in chief is not in the constitution, it exists in communist countries like Cuba,” she added, referring to a statement Correa made on his weekly television show last Saturday when he said he would not tolerate military disobedience as the commander and chief of the Armed Forces after a spat with the military high command.
Opposition protesters hold anti-government signs in front of the ruling party's headquarter in Quito, Feb. 10, 2016. | Photo: teleSUR
The dispute that sparked the protests kicked off last week when the government confronted the military high command over irregularities in a 2010 land transaction involving the military. The Social Security Institute of the Armed Forces (ISSFA) allegedly overcharged the Ministry of Environment for plots of land at a cost of over US$48 million, or about US$41 million above the plots’ value on the land registry.
Military commanders interpreted the call for reimbursement as a government attempt to deprive them of pension funds. Correa argued this was not the case. When the high command stepped out of standard military practice and spoke out publicly about the matter. Correa sacked the high command for disobedience.
Small groups of anti- and pro-government protesters square off in front of ruling party headquarters in Quito, Feb. 10, 2016. | Photo: teleSUR
“Soldiers can have certainty over their pensions,” Correa said during the rally Wednesday. “Our armed forces are very important for the country, but they are not the whole country.”
He added that the actions of the military high command reflected a “past mentality” in Ecuador when “the country was very different” and noted that the gains of what supporters call the Citizens Revolution has also impacted the lives of the country’s security personnel.
The president said he plans to negotiate with the military to get the funds reimbursed through dialogue.
Simultaneous protests were also organized in other major cities in Ecuador.
WATCH: Mainstream Media Coverage of Ecuador Protests